Racist Nature of Presentations of Africa in the Past and Present

An important and controversial occurrence in Africa’s recent history is the racist nature of representations of Africa by foreign states, being mostly European. Racist portrayals of Africans—most often against Sub-Saharan peoples—served a tactical purpose for imperial powers. As noted in the class lecture for September 23rd, racial ideologies situating African peoples as “lower” beings helped to further justify European imperialism on the continent. Noted as well, is that the racialized incentives for conquest are further enforced through the arrival of large numbers of Europeans to conquered territories, which directly led to racial inequalities within said colonies.

The “Africa/African” piece by Jemima Pierre further emphasizes the type of racialized ideologies that were at play, and to some extent still persist to this day. Late eighteenth-century English writings drew direct connections between apes and Africans, likely aided in part by the literary imagery of there existing supposed “beastlike men” in Africa. Pierre goes beyond the racialized motives for African colonialism by pointing out another motive for racism on page 13; the transatlantic slave trade. It would naturally be somewhat troubling to speak of enslaving another human being, especially in the mind of a then “modern” European, in order to serve in labor and crop harvesting tasks. The solution to this is to do away with the notion of these slaves being human in any way. Europeans would assert that there was both a natural and “’sexual association of apes”’ with black Africans.

Even in the contemporary world, there are certain themes played out in politics and media that continue the belief that Sub-Saharan Africa is in dire need of “white saviors”, and that it cannot so easily progress without their help. For example, the author of the Economist article, “A Hopeful Continent”, points to hopeful progress for the continent that could happen with the large amounts of foreign aid that are flowing in, but that one must wait to see the fruits of this labor in due time. This statement is not bad in and of itself, but it is the commentary afterward that is problematic. Specific aid to the tune of $1.7 billion from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation since 2006 is promising, but there is the acknowledgement that it takes “years and years to shift the system.” The author’s problematic commentary on page 3 is that “some aid will be wasted, some new roads will remain empty, and more than a few barrels of oil will be stolen.” Though the author of the article praises the amount of aid being given, there is still a cynical belief that Sub-Saharan Africans will put that money and aid to its best use. The author, though, praises the foreign aid nonetheless, arguably evoking a sense of white saviors needing to “save” African countries at any cost. There is not even a shred of statistical evidence for these assertions of mismanagement and would appear to stem directly from the author’s own biased views.

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